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What The Pros Know

Decor Magazine, Dec 03, 2009

Since we first launched DECOR’s Top Art & Framing Retailers Awards program nearly seven years ago, we’ve gleaned as much insight as possible every year from the winners. Here, we honor our end-of-the-year tradition of revealing how they plan to get ahead in the new year, as three of the winners (see the list below) share their strategies in a special Q&A. Stay tuned in 2010 for insight from more of the winners.

Ken Baur Ken Baur, president of Framing Concepts Gallery and winner of the Best Store Website Award
Kirstie Bennett Kirstie Bennett, owner of The Framer's Workshop and winner of the Best E-Newsletter Award
Claudine Bogart Claudine Bogart, CPF, owner of Frame Depot Inc. and winner of the Best Backroom Award
DECOR: What are your business goals for 2010? How do you plan to grow your business?

Baur: We will offer a new, more interactive website. We also will plan more events next year.

Bennett: I just finished one goal a couple months early. I planned to add an e-mail archive to the website, and that is now finished, along with a new newsletter sign-up page. One of my goals for 2010 is to increase corporate sales. Although we have framing staff, this is my job. In order to personally represent the company, we feel that an owner must show up, give fantastic service, make the sale, and take time to follow up to retain the client. Growing this area of our business will involve going out of my comfort zone to initiate cold calls and join a face-to-face networking group. I love servicing the customers I have, but making those initial contacts is not easy for me. I am going to take corporate sales classes for the second time at the West Coast Art & Frame and Photo Marketing Association/Professional Picture Framers Association trade shows next year to get motivated again.

Bogart: Our business goals for 2010 are to continue to increase our business. We have been very flat this year even after expanding our business space to almost double the size it was. Expanding our backroom has made it easier to do projects faster, which increases the likelihood the customer will come back sooner to pick it up. We are also learning more about how to bid on projects here in our town. This is a new area for us that we are more able to accommodate with our new backroom. We plan to focus on that in 2010.

DECOR: Have you explored alternative sources of revenue for your store above and beyond art and custom framing? Do you have any strategies for expanding your customer base?

Baur: We offer many framing-related services and feel these are the best course for us. We offer delivery, installation, on-site consultations and sales of art and framing through other businesses.

Bennett: After 32 years in business, and in the midst of a recession, the first question is one all of us are pondering. Our corporate sales have started to turn around, and we need to capitalize on that and be more aggressive with marketing to the corporate sector. We will also continue to send out an award-winning newsletter with links to private member's coupons. In September, we set a record for dollar sales volume generated by our e-newsletter coupon.

We have not explored other sources of revenue yet. Our shop is a destination, do-it-yourself and custom framing shop. Framing is our business and our life. We specialize in this one great product, do-it-yourself and custom picture framing, and our energies must remain focused there. We have tried diluting our energies with gift items in the past and have not been successful in that arena. I believe that in order to succeed with any product line, you must have critical mass. If you have ready-mades, have a room full of them. If you sell candles, have a huge selection. You've got to have the best selection of whatever it is you sell, so customers will flock to your shop for that item. Ten ready-mades leaning against the wall won't do it, nor will one shelf of needlepoint kits. You must have critical mass. We have that with a ready-made wall frames, and so we sell a lot of them. We also offer do-it-yourself services that are unique in our area.

We do believe in framing add-ons like digital restoration, and we continue to grow that service every year. In 2008, our digital restoration sales doubled. Printing is an interesting service that many framers are exploring. I would not invest in a large format printer unless I could beat the local competition, and in our large metropolitan area with dozens of dedicated print shops, this would be an enormous challenge.

Of course, we will grow the e-mail subscriber base, but beyond that, I plan to delve deeper into social-media networking. Most of us don't have a track record in that area yet, but we will soon, and we will let you know what is successful when we see concrete results.

Bogart: We sell other gifts like glass boxes, stuffed animals and McCall's candles, but beyond that, we are trying to stick to picture frames and home decor. It has taken us a long time to eliminate the gifts that were not selling to our customer base, and we are trying to focus more on home decor. As far as expanding our customer base, we have a lot of new customers every month, so my mix of advertising is working. We do cable television, radio and print ads that I have strategically placed throughout the month, so we are advertising somewhere every week. We are also finding that direct-mail postcards are effective, and I would like to do more with those in 2010.

DECOR: Have you used online social media as a form of marketing? If not, are you considering it?

Baur: We use Facebook and are experimenting with Twitter, and we set up a blog on our website,

Bennett: Yes. We have a blog, we are on Twitter, and we post to Facebook with a unique URL — Our home page now has a Facebook feed that updates as we make entries. I am also active on LinkedIn. I feel that the key to developing successful social networking for business is to develop personal relationships through these various networks. Having said that, I think this is the greatest challenge we face with social networking. It is easy to post new product announcements to Twitter, Facebook, your blog and on your e-newsletter. It is another matter to actually start a conversation that readers will want to participate in. In order to do that, you either have to be controversial — not a good idea for business — or you have to be willing to act as an expert in your field, and post useful information that consumers are interested in reading. We believe how-to framing topics will be too arcane for the general public. Finding the right balance will be an interesting challenge.

Bogart: We have a Facebook page for our fans, and we are on Twitter. Currently, I am trying to build our fan base on Facebook, so I'm talking to more than just friends and family; it's slowly getting there. I use it to show off "wow" projects that we do or send out an invitation to our next featured artist's reception.

DECOR: How did you survive the recession, and how are you forging ahead in the recovery? What has been one of the keys to keeping your doors open?

Baur: We cut many costs like phone lines and parts of insurance. Going out to our customers and trying to work more in the homes and businesses has also been a good strategy.

Bennett: Long before the recession, we instituted what many frameshops now promote, a "poster special." By offering lower-cost framing packages, we are retaining our customer base and starting to see some growth in sales over last fall. I am not a proponent of a huge selection of poster special selections, however. We buy a handful of mouldings at very attractive prices—often at trade shows—and often negotiate with our sales representatives. We use these for the framing packages we offer, but if a customer wants a more interesting design, he or she will pay full price. We have to protect our margins in order to stay in business, so we restrict the choices on the specials. It's that simple.

Bogart: We are surviving the recession by examining every expenditure. We renegotiated our insurance and are keeping costs down. We've looked at how we buy and are buying more things in bulk and on sale, so we don't have the same items to buy every week. It hasn't been fun, but we're hanging in here. We're going to keep doing what we have been doing. One of the best things we've done is cut down our turnaround time because people will come back faster, which helps our bottom line. We've also added a few more wholesale accounts in the photography area, so we are now their framer. Between all that, and a lot of prayers, we're still here.

DECOR: Have you noticed any purchasing trends with customers in the past year or so? Is there a product or service they are more interested in than others?

Baur: Because of the economy we have created many low-cost packages like poster and document specials. These have brought in many clients. We have also started to offer a new line of discounted mouldings.

Bennett: Our customers are interested in saving money. This is not just a small trend. It is a big change in buying habits that I believe will outlast this recession. Customers might have something special to frame that requires more creative framing, but they also have kids pictures, photos, gifts and other projects that they just want to get up on the wall. Serving both needs with great, personalized service retains customers.

Bogart: People seem to be using their credit cards less in the past few months. No one comes in asking for "green framing," so I don't think that trend is as prevalent in our area. I think people are interested in great customer service, and that's the bottom line. In any economy, you can't afford to turn off customers by being rude. Happy employees also help. It has been a rough year on all of us, but I make sure my employees know I appreciate them.